26 Jul 2017

Now that I’ve detailed how to get from Marrakech to the Saharan Desert and all the epic stops to make along the way, I can tell you about sunset camel rides across rippled stretches of golden sand, “glamping” in the desert at Kam Kam Dunes, and sleeping under the Saharan stars. It was truly a magical experience that I would highly recommend placing at the top of your bucket list.

SUNSET CAMEL RIDE
“My humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps…”
Or rather Hector's lovely camel hump. Singular.

Hector being the name I bestowed upon my camel and The Black Eyed Peas song being the very apt camel riding anthem stuck in my head as we lazily meandered across the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi Desert as the sun began it's descent.

Judging by the complaints of soreness made by my four travel companions from atop their gentle, long-lashed beasts, Hector’s hump must’ve been generously padded since I was quite comfortable throughout the trek.

We stopped at the edge of a steep dune to watch the sun sink below the horizon, making the golden ripples of the desert glow in the fading light.

THE CAMP GROUNDS
Well after the inky darkness had engulfed the night, we parked our camels at the entrance of Kam Kam Dunes, situated about an hour’s ride out of Merzouga. With varying degrees of awkwardness, we dismounted from our be-humped steeds and crossed the Moroccan rug-covered grounds of the camp – illuminated by intricate floor lanterns – to where one of our Berber hosts was waiting to welcome us with a customary glass of mint tea.

Looking to check out our sleeping quarters, our quintet wandered beyond a blazing bonfire surrounded by plush embroidered pillows and into a small clearing lined by seven haimas – traditional tents made of camel-skin that were used by the nomadic Berber people.

Pushing open the flap of the tent, I gazed around in awe at the airy, open space occupied by canvas director chairs and a cozy king-sized bed made up with white linens, framed by gauzy fabric draped from rustic wooden posts. The bohemian chic interior was a stark contrast to the sparse desert landscape, an out of place luxury complete with hipster tree stump nightstands.

What was TRULY luxurious about these tents was the working toilet, sink, and shower, complete with hot water! Like what?! Don’t ask me how – it’s magic (or water tanks). Also, the room was spotlessly clean, with nary a speck of sand in sight, an amazing feat considering that we were neck deep in it. Kam Kam Dunes elevated camping to an entirely different level hence the necessity of coining of the term “glamping.”

A MOROCCAN FEAST
After settling in and layering on every item of clothing we brought – to accommodate for the surprising desert cold – we returned to the front of the camp for dinner. The main tents resembled the souks of Marrakech with floor-to-ceiling sequinned and tasselled Moroccan rugs and embroidered hats decking the walls.

Over candles winking in the dim lighting of the room, our host (and chef that evening) Mustafa, served a veritable feast of chicken brochettes, thickly cut fries, and an enormous vegetable tagine that we enjoyed with a bottle of wine they managed to scrounge up for us, hedonistic alcoholics that we are.

TIME TO MOROC-AND-ROLL (AHAHAH)

After dinner, we dragged our full bellies in the adjoining room for some traditional Berber music, performed on drums by Mustafa and the rest of the Moroccan men who worked at the camp. At one point, Mustafa started rapping which was an impressive feat aside from the fact that he was doing it in English, which was not his first let alone his second language (he spoke Arabic, Berber, French, and Spanish fairly fluently). Urging us to join in, one of their group began to jauntily show off what I assumed was part of a cultural dance but he very well could’ve been just having fun at the silly, gullible tourists’ expense.

At the end of their performance, the Kam Kam Dunes troupe gestured to switch places with us. Lacking massive quantities alcohol to dull the mortification and the coordination necessary to sing and drum simultaneously paired with some good old fashioned crippling performance anxiety, it was a cringeworthy shit show. I was ready to quit two minutes in but Mustafa and his crew seemed genuinely thrilled that we were trying and called encouragements to us.

Heck, I figured if they weren’t embarrassed for us then I was going to give them a show. Summoning my desert alter ego, Fatima Couscous (as christened by a waiter earlier that day) I threw away any lingering vestiges of dignity and squawked something wordless and tuneless while smashing together some clicky clacky, cymbal instrument in my hands. I believe that is the technical word – clicky clacky, cymbal instrument.

The crowd went wild with applause! In my head. In reality, my friends were laughing their asses off and taking videos to blackmail me with. Ah friendship.

Moral of the story: Always have a karaoke song in your back pocket in off chance that bored Berber men will force you to entertain them.

SUNRISE IN THE DESERT
After gazing at the swathe of stars dotting the night sky while chatting with Mustafa about his life, Berber culture, experiences at Kam Kam Dunes, we turned in early, hoping to catch the sun rise the following morning. Despite preconceived notions about the desert, it is FREEZING at night since the sand does not hold any of the sun’s heat. While I was comfortable in jeans and a light shirt during the day, at night I shivered myself to sleep under the downy duvet.

“Hey guys, the sun’s going to rise in 5 minutes if you want to see it.”

At Janelle’s words floating from the flap of our tent, I awoke with a start and paused only long enough to shove my glasses on my face and my feet in my boots before running out of the tent. I nearly tripped over my feet sinking into the sand as I clumsily clambered up the little hill that overlooked the camp – the perfect vantage point to see the daybreak.

Breathing in the crisp desert air, surrounded by friends, and witnessing yet another majestic sunrise in a country so far from everything familiar to me, I experienced one of those moments that just clicked. Like how I felt at Yi Peng in Thailand, I had an overwhelming certainty that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what I had only dreamed that I’d be fortunate enough to do.

NOTES:

Transportation:
Through Le Riad Yasmine, we arranged for a private driver and guide for the 3-day trip (2 days travelling, 1 at camp). It came to about 4300 dirhams (approximately $590 CAD) but we required a larger vehicle as there were five of us.


Berber Tent:
Cost: $100 - 150 / person / night
Number of Tents: 7
Tent Capacity: Between 2-3 people
Wifi? No
Breakfast is included

Activities:
- Sunset or sunrise camel rides
- ATV tours
- Sand boarding
- Motorcross riding
- Running routes


Tips:
- If you're coming from Marrakech, I'd stay at least two nights since it's more worth the long journey.
- It's a lot colder than you'd think – like shivering yourself to sleep, cold – so bring layers and a good down coat.
- Don't rely on your phone for an alarm clock! I almost missed the sunrise because my phone had turned off in the extreme cold overnight.


ETC is the overflow of thoughts in the mind of Teri Yeung. It’s a place full of stories of travel adventures, imparted lessons learned from life’s achievements and failures, behind-the-scenes of projects and experiments, and anything else that inspires excitement and joy.

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